I started shooting RAW with my Canon 550D, and tried out different Picture Style settings on some of the images using the software provided by Canon (I am assuming that the Picture Style settings are consistent with those in the camera). The Picture Style seems to contain only settings related to Sharpness, Saturation, Tone and Contrast.

However, when I switch across different styles, the white balance seems to change as well even though the preset styles seem to differ only in sharpness. E.g. the Portrait style appears warmer than the Standard and Landscape styles.

So, do the preset styles have any impact on the white balance? Also, are there any differences between the camera & computer software styles?


There are some key differences between a picture style and a white balance setting. While both can affect white and color balance, simply because of the nature of color, the two are intended for different purposes.

Picture Styles affect the baseline curves applied to the image when interpolating the raw bayer pixel information into RGB pixels for viewing on a screen. Picture style curves attune each color channel, introduce stronger contrast over the raw luminence and color information. Its very similar to tweaking the RGB curves in Photoshop, only processing RAW sensor data (individual Red, Green, or Blue bayer pixels) rather than full RGB pixels. The goal is to tune color balance. A classic Color Checker card will help you see the differences between various picture styles, and you can compare the results of a photo of such a card with the card itself or a computerized version (only valid on a properly calibrated computer screen) to see how picture styles affect color balance.

White Balance settings affect the color axis shift of an image. These shifts are primarily along the blue/orange-yellow and green/magenta axes, which are fundamental axes of color theory and human color perception. Most lighting that illuminates a scene is black-body lighting (light produced by dark materials that emit light as a result of being headed to anywhere from 2000 to 20,000 degrees kelvin), so the primary mode of adjusting white balance is shifting the white point along the blue/orange-yellow axes. Some forms of artificial lighting, namely flourescent lighting and CFL bulbs, produce light by running an electric current through a gas. Such lighting often introduces a slight magenta or green tint, and these tints are corrected by shifting the white point along the green/magenta axes.

Both adjustments, tuning RGB curves and moving white point, affect both white balance and color balance, however each affects one much more than the other. A landscape picture style, for example, might introduce a bit more of a green shift in white balance, while enhancing blues and greens from a color balance perspective much more. Correcting the slight green in white balance due to choosing a landscape picture style will affect the overall color balance of the photo as well, however the impact will usually be minor, and the final results are usually still acceptable.

Regarding the subtlety of the changes affected by picture style, thats to be expected, as the differences are fairly subtle. Usually, taking a picture of one single scene with different picture styles will only produce minor differences. On the other hand, taking a portrait with a portrait picture style, and a landscape photo with the landscape picture style, will usually produce better results for those types of photos. The intent of a picture style is to enhance the important color elements of a certain type of photo. Using landscape on a portrait photo probably won't produce anything particularly intriguing beyond a neutral or standard style, while using a portrait style should produce noticeable, even if its only slightly noticeable, improvement in skin tones.

  • Yes, I have noticed the improvements in skin tone with the portrait style. White balance also makes a big difference in this regard. Is there any order in which the 2 need to be tweaked, or is this an iterative process?
    – ab.aditya
    Jan 11 '12 at 18:12
  • @ab.aditya: Adjusting these is largely a matter of taste. There really are no rules when it comes to photographic processing, and your artistic goals will drive what adjustments you make more than anything else. A portrait could be great when its warm with a blush-enhancing picture style, but there is nothing to say that a portrait taken in a cold, snowy environment wouldn't benefit from some very unconventional tweaks to enhance the "cold feel"...a cooler white balance, bluer overall color balance, etc.
    – jrista
    Jan 11 '12 at 18:33

Picture Styles generally don't affect white balance per se, but they do affect colour balance. For example, portrait styles increase red channels to provide warmer skin tones, and landscape portrait styles boost the blue and green channels for more vivid scenery and skies.

  • This seems to make sense. Is there any way to find out these settings for the presets? Also is there any way to tweak them in custom styles, as customs styles are based on a preset (at least in-camera)?
    – ab.aditya
    Jan 11 '12 at 17:11
  • Most cameras allow you to edit the profiles and make new ones, yes. I'm a Nikon user so I'm not sure of the exact process, but they should be editable in-camera at least. Check your manual. Jan 11 '12 at 18:45
  • As I've noted in the question, only the Sharpness, Saturation, Tone and Contrast settings are exposed in-camera. The PC Picture Style Editor seems to show the same settings for the presets, but it does allow one to adjust the tone curve and other settings as well.
    – ab.aditya
    Jan 12 '12 at 4:27

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